Ufi charitable trust is to use the £50 million it made from the sell off of Learn Direct to pump prime “innovation for scale” in the FE and Adult Learning sectors.

Ufi, the “big idea” of Gordon Brown, which he hoped would match Harold Wilson’s Open University idea, was finally broken up last year when Learn Direct was sold off to a private equity fund.

The other arm of Ufi, the UK Online Centres, became an employee led “mutual” set up to continue and develop the work of the UK Online.

The chair of the Ufi charitable trust, Ray Barnes, formerly Visa International, wants the fund to be a “catalyst” to deliver “permanent and radical transformation in vocational education and training and reduce face to face interaction and harness technology to reach much greater numbers with greater quality outcomes”

Invitations to bid for the £50 million funds, initially funded from the interest, although one trustee told me they were not averse to use capital if exciting, innovative and scaleable ideas emerge, will open on 2nd July at www.ufi.co.uk

Applicants will be better prepared to make their bids if they read the excellent report published by Ufi, and written by Seb Schmoller, Dick Moore, Clive Shepherd and Adrian Perry entitled “Scaling Up” also available on the Ufi website. There are six potential categories of projects:

• Training Learning Professionals in using digital tools

• Analytical tools developed to help organisations implement large scale changes to teaching models

• Empowering Learners to develop their own capacity

• Developing curriculum content and collaboration

• Level 2 Maths

• Simulations, Games, and Virtualisation

Rory Cellan Jones led a lively debate at the early morning London launch of the fund with panel inputs from McDonalds, Pearson, UnionLearn, Google and IfL.

Donald Clark, one of the Ufi trustees, was delighted this money was being recycled to support learning rather than dropping in to a Treasury black hole.

“It was only right that the considerable amount of public money that went to the years developing the value in Learn Direct should be used to support learning transformation at scale in further and adult education and training”

It is obvious that a “catalyst for change” needs to come from outside the sector if we are to avoid what Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor of the Open University describes as a “growing crisis of relevance” in our colleges.

This reflects the growing gap between the digital expectations of all learners and the digital capacity of the Further, Adult and Vocational education “system”

Whilst there are some really exciting innovative teachers using technology to enhance learning, Tony Fazaeli of the IfL claim that “two thirds of our membership are confident in the use of technology” is not supported by feedback from learners, employers and large number of FE teachers.

They may be confident using PowerPoint or Interactive Whiteboards but that is missing the point surely?

It is welcome and timely that the Ufi trust fund might stimulate innovation as it is difficult to see how this “paradigm shift” would otherwise happen with a funding, audit and inspection regime, which stifles and discourages innovative approaches to technology, enhanced and blended learning.

Bob Harrison is vice chair of governors at Northern College & education adviser for Toshiba Information Systems